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Sri Lankan 'sniper' arrested over a reported plot against Maldives' president

Maldivian authorities have charged a Sri Lankan man with planning a sniper attack against the Maldivian president. The security forces claim that the head of state was targeted in at least three assassination plots.

The alleged sniper conspiracy has a "clear connection" with the earlier explosion aboard President Yameen Abdul Gayoom's boat, and the homemade bomb which officials had discovered near the presidential residence, Maldivian Home Minister Umar Naseer said on Saturday.

"There could be further attacks planned. We're verifying the sniper's background," Naseer told the Reuters news agency.

The 27-year old Sri Lankan was arrested on October 24, authorities said, without providing the suspect's name.

"Though a sniffer rifle hasn't yet been found, police have recovered a telescope and a bullet used in such rifles. It's now established that the suspect knew that his target was the president," Naseer said.

President Gayoom declared a state of emergency on Wednesday citing security concerns, raising the tensions among some 400,000 inhabitants of the Indian Ocean nation.

Vice-president arrested

The unrest was first sparked by an explosion on the president's boat late September. While Gayoom was not hurt in the incident, the blast injured his wife, an aide and a bodyguard.

The officials initially suspected mechanical failure, but soon launched an assassination probe and invited international investigators to examine the evidence.

However, even after the American FBI found "no conclusive evidence" of a bomb attack, the Maldivian government insisted the president survived an assassination attempt.

Several weeks later, the authorities arrested the country's vice president Ahmed Adeeb over the alleged links with the boat blast.

On Monday, the security forces found and defused a remote controlled bomb near the presidential palace, according to the military. The officials have also discovered caches of explosives and arms near the president's residence and elsewhere in the country.

Pressure from abroad

Gayoom's decision to impose the state of emergency for 30 days provoked heavy criticism from right's groups. The move curtails civil rights, allowing the security forces to search homes without warrants and make arrests virtually at will.

On Friday, the police raided a private television station, accusing the management of uploading a Youtube video with treats to the president.

The state of emergency also prompted opposition parties to cancel a large anti-government rally, scheduled for this week.

The US and the UK governments, alongside several other countries, have called on Gayoom to reverse his decision.

dj/rc (Reuters, AP, AFP)

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